Writing Press Releases in Times of Crisis
Five months on, COVID-19 remains a much talked about topic in the news cycle. PR Newswire has received hundreds of pandemic-related press releases from brands across APAC. during this period. Like the developing situation, the key topics in press releases are evolving as the crisis move from the prevention, damage control to the recovery phases. These topics have shifted from corporate social responsibility initiatives, the influx of e-commerce and remote working products to recovery plans, and safe and hygienic re-opening measures.
Recently, PR Newswire’s Senior Editor Nathan Brown conducted an online workshop on Writing Press Releases in Times of Crisis. Equipped with a wealth of experience on editing and writing COVID-19-related press releases, Nathan shared his tips for crafting press releases that resonate with audiences during difficult periods. They include communicating with empathy and clarity, having a coherent content structure, and distributing press releases to relevant audiences.
Here are the key takeaways from the on-demand online workshop.
1. Choose the tone of writing carefully
Businesses need to choose their words carefully when promoting one’s products or services during this period. Instead of proclaiming themselves as “number one”, they should highlight the qualities that set them apart from the competition. Nathan said: “Besides not exaggerating the truth, one must also avoid bombastic language as well as badmouthing other parties such as competitors or politicians.”
2. Avoid newsjacking and profiteering
Nathan highlighted two absolute no-nos when it comes to writing press releases. The first mistake is newsjacking, which connects trending topics to a company’s news in a misleading and inaccurate way. He adds: “Such headlines are a form of clickbait, which has nothing to do with the rest of the content.” Another way to get into journalists’ bad books is to profiteer from press releases. This involves taking advantage of the situation to earn money by promoting’s one’s products distastefully.
Download our tip sheet on crafting COVID-19 related press releases (it includes real examples of newsjacking and profiteering in press releases that PR Newswire has received).
3. Plan content according to its destination
The effectiveness of a press release is determined by the extent of its target audience reach. Nathan listed four areas to consider. Firstly, make sure the content is relevant to the market that the press release is sent to. Secondly, research on the distribution regions and take note of religious and political sensitivities there. Avoid touchy subjects, controversial words and over-generalizations of a community. Thirdly, localize press releases to make them more accessible and relevant to local audiences. Lastly, do not get involved in ongoing conflicts and controversies, such as taking sides in political issues or corporate disputes.
4. Have a coherent content structure
a. Introduction: Get straight to the point
Hook the readers with a captivating opening sentence and include ‘why this news matters to them’ in the first paragraph. The introductory paragraphs should also concisely cover the 5Ws – When, Where, What, Who, and Why. Ideally, readers should be able to take home a condensed version of the press release from reading the first paragraph. In addition, they should see how this news is important to them, and not just to the company.
b. Main body: Add in the details
For the subsequent paragraphs, expand on the ideas that have been mentioned in the introduction. Include additional details such as quotes from the most relevant newsmaker (It doesn’t have to be the CEO all the time). Make sure that the quote is substantial and relevant to the news. It should provide a voice for the company, as well as, a new perspective or opinion on the matter. Also, include complete information such as the name and job title of the spokesperson. The main body should be composed in a clear and organized manner so that readers can follow the points easily and understand the significance of the news.
Besides conveying a clear message, a well-written press release brings about positive action. Always include a clear call to action that tells the reader how to follow-up for more information. The ending of a press release includes a boilerplate on the company’s profile and contact information.
5. Add multimedia elements
Adding suitable and appealing multimedia elements increase the likelihood of news getting picked up by media outlets. It also enhances the information in the press release and improves readability. Different markets have varying standards on the quality of multimedia used in press releases. A good gauge on the multimedia requirements in each market is to check out the types of multimedia that some media outlets are using.
Use Cision’s online press release analysis tool to check if your press release meets key requirements such as word count, contact information, quotes and the number of commonly used keywords.
Watch the Writing Press Releases in Times of Crisis workshop here